What or who is The Roman Catholic Church. According to Britannica Online Encyclopedia, “The Roman Catholic Church traces its history to Apostolic Period (the days of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.) Over the course of centuries it developed a highly sophisticated theology and an elaborate organizational structure headed by the papacy, the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world.”
Before going further into its history, allow me to clear up a major misconception. The Catholic Church and The Roman Catholic Church are often mistaken as one and the same, but they are not. Most Christians consider themselves Catholic in regard that they recognize the Nicene Creed and The Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, the phrase Roman Catholic directly refers to the church headed by the pope in Rome that believes in seven sacraments and the authority of tradition.
In his book, The Roman Catholic Church–An Illustrated History, Edward Norman tell us the benefit of knowing the History of The Roman Catholic Church (RCC), “we discover how Rome became the heart of the Roman Catholic religion and played a role in transforming Western Europe into Christendom.” Basically, the history of The RCC is an integral part in the history of Christianity.
After Jesus died, the disciple, Simon Peter, who the RCC considers the first Pope and The Bishop of Rome, became a strong leader in the Jewish Christian movement. Later James, most likely Jesus’ brother, took over leadership. These followers of Christ viewed themselves as a reform movement within Judaism yet they continued to follow many of the Jewish laws.
The Acts of the Apostles describes how shortly after, Saul of Tarsus, as a Jewish Roman citizen, personified the intolerance of both groups by rounding up and killing unrepentant Christians. Then he had a blinding vision of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and became a Christian. Adopting the name Paul, and known as Paul The Apostle orSt. Paul, he became the greatest evangelist of the early Christian church. Paul’s ministry, also called Pauline Christianity, was directed mainly to Gentiles rather than Jews. Some historians and theologians say this was proof that the early church was already becoming divided even back then.
Another belief system at this time was Gnostic Christianity, which taught that Jesus was a spirit being, sent by God to impart knowledge to humans so that they could escape the miseries of life on earth. In addition to Gnostic, Jewish, and Pauline Christianity, there were already many other versions of Christianity being taught. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jewish Christian movement was scattered. Pauline and Gnostic Christianity were left as the dominant groups.
In the year 313 AD or CE (Common Era for the non Christians reading this), the Roman Emperor Constantine authorized Christianity as the state religion, adopting “Pauline Christianity,” also widely referred to as The Apostle Paul’s Ministry. Seven decades later in 380 AD, Theodosius made what is now known as Roman Catholicism or The RCC the officially recognized religion of the Roman Empire. It became all powerful in Western Europe with no legal alternative until the Protestant Reformation. In fact for the following 1000 years, Catholics were the only people recognized as Christians. In 1054 AD, a formal split occurred between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. A division that still remains in effect today.
From 1453 to 1600, two monumental events took place in history that greatly affected the RCC. One was the discovery and conquest if the Americas and the second but equally important event was the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was led by Martin Luther, a German priest and professor of theology. Strongly disputing the claim that freedom from God’s punishment of sin could be purchased with money in 1517 he nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg in protest. While Martin Luther is credited for starting the Protestant Reformation it, John Calvin (born Jean Cauvin) an influential French theologian and pastor, who gave it structure.
In a mildly successful movement if its own, The RCC underwent a renewal called the Counter-Reformation or the Catholic Reformation, in which it was forced to make some serious changes. Those who remained faithful to The RCC believed that the central regulation of doctrine by church leaders was necessary to prevent confusion and division within the church and corruption of its beliefs.
Even though The First Amendment to the Constitution stipulates that there would be no established religion in the new nation, Christianity is unofficially considered the state religion in the United States. With some 50 million members, the RCC is considered by some the largest religious organization in America today. While Protestants did come to acknowledge other that religious groups were legitimate denominations of the true church, Catholics were obliged by their faith to insist that theirs was the one true church.
Sources: The Britannica Online Encycopedia: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/507284/Roman-Catholicism And All About Religion.org http://www.allaboutreligion.org/